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Water

FLOW

Flow photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2015)

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

As I was getting off his table today, my acupuncturist said, “Remember. Water is your friend. Be sure to drink lots today.”

Checking my email when I got home, someone had sent me a link to an article about Governor Brown announcing a mandatory reduction in water use by California residents and businesses. There was a little video with the article, so I watched Jerry speak to the people of California as if we are idiots, which, collectively, we are. Jerry was performing on a meadow in the Sierras where, for the first time in the seventy-five years they’ve been measuring snow on that meadow, there is no snow on April Fools Day. Zero white stuff that makes water when it melts.

Jerry bragged that his executive order will prohibit watering ornamental grass on public street medians, require new homes to use drip irrigation systems for landscaping, direct urban water agencies to establish new (higher) prices for water to maximize conservation, and require urban water and agricultural agencies to report more water usage information to the state (so the state can, like, think about those numbers and, you know, figure stuff out.)

He did not order ending water usage by oil extraction companies (fracking corporations) or impose limits on water usage by corporate farms, despite this being the worst drought in California in at least one hundred and twenty years. In other words, he imposed restrictions on people and towns and cities and businesses that combine to use about ten per cent of California’s water, yet he did nothing to reign in the profligate use of ninety per cent of the state’s water by corporate monsters, many of those monsters subsidized by our state and federal governments. Way to go Jerry!

Here is the speech I wish Jerry had made. “Well, as you can see by the absence of snow in this meadow, California is in dire straits when it comes to water. The Sierra snow pack is less than ten percent of normal, and we have no way of knowing when this drought will end, if ever. Most of our state’s precious water is being used for extracting oil we shouldn’t be extracting and for growing things like almonds and rice that should not be grown here in the absence of ample water. So as of today, I am declaring a seventy-five percent mandatory reduction of water used for fracking and growing almonds and rice and anything else that uses too much water. And that’s just the beginning.”

Maybe he’ll make that speech next year after another year of drought when the corporate monsters have entirely depleted the ancient aquifer under the Central Valley and there isn’t enough water for people to take thirty-second showers.

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” W.H. Auden

In the comment section below the article and video of Jerry Brown speaking to us as if we are idiots, one brave person made the suggestion that maybe there were too many people in California, and maybe that has something to do with the water problem. She pointed out that one in every nine Americans now lives in California. Wow, did that brave person ever get jumped on for suggesting such an un-American thing as limiting the population of a state, let alone a planet.

One person wrote, “The problem is not too many people. The problem is America spent so many trillions of dollars on war that we don’t have enough money left for building pipelines to bring water to California from Canada and the Mississippi.” Okay! There’s a solution for you. Get that to Jerry Brown. Forget the peripheral canal stealing most of northern California’s water for Los Angeles and the giant corporate farms, let’s just get the water from Canada and the Mississippi. How hard could that be?

“Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” Friedrich Nietzsche

In related news, the talented young actress Keira Knightley wants to know, “Where are the female stories? Where are they? Where are the female directors, where are the female writers? It’s imbalanced.”

How is this related to California’s water crisis? The way my mind works, the water crisis and the absence of women in positions of creative power in the entertainment industry are parts of the same larger crisis. Human society is out of balance with nature, and the impetus for that imbalance is a power imbalance between men and women. Feminist balderdash you say?

Maybe so, but if one assesses the movies made and released to large audiences in America over the last thirty years, you will find that the solution to almost any problem confronting a person or people in movies today, is to assemble muscle and weaponry, and if possible some super heroes, and perhaps a token kick-ass woman, and kick the shit out of the problem. Kill it. Complex, non-violent, cooperative, generous, caring solutions are so rarely modeled in our movies, one could almost use the word never.

Do I really think what we see in movies influences how we act in the rest of our lives? Without a doubt. Do I think our movies might have modeled ways of living and solving problems and relating to each other that would have resulted in a different approach to the state and national and global crises facing us today? Absolutely.

I also think we would have taken ameliorative action to combat global climate change, environmental pollution and degradation, nuclear power, overfishing, and the elephant in the room known as overpopulation, long ago if our movies and books and plays and music and education reflected a balance of male and female energy instead of what they reflect today and have reflected for most of my life—domination of the world and human society by men stuck in adolescent wet dreams, and when I say wet, I don’t mean water.

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Flow

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2011)

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting what you are doing. This is the ultimate.” Zhuangzi

Something happened to me a few days ago the likes of which hadn’t happened to me in eons. I was shooting hoops at the elementary school, playing alone, as is my custom now that I am deep into middle age and easily injured, when I became aware that I was caught up in an extraordinary flow of action involving my body, the ball, the air, the backboard, and the hoop. I think this was what sports commentators mean when they say a player is “in the zone,” playing with seeming effortlessness, yet playing superbly and flawlessly for an extended period of time. A frequently used adjunct comment to saying a player is “in the zone” is “he’s unconscious.”

That adjunct comment turns out not to be true, because the cool thing about being in the zone, and this has been corroborated by many athletes speaking about their in-the-zone experiences, is that they were not unconscious, but rather fully aware of being in the zone yet not consciously controlling what they were doing. That is to say, they were not conscious of making decisions about what to do next while they were caught up in the flow of action because they were, in essence, inseparable from the flow of everything going on.

It is also true that the more practiced and skillful an athlete, the more easily and often she will find herself in the zone; zone being a misnomer since it is not really a place, but a state of being. My in-the-zone moment was probably the result of playing more often these past few months when school has been out and my access to the courts has been unlimited.

My experience of being inseparable from the ecstatic flow began with the awareness of the ball coming into my hands as if thrown to me by an invisible cohort, the ball leaving my hands as if self-propelled, the ball arching high into the air and tumbling down through the center of the hoop, the ball returning as if passed to me by that same invisible friend, my body dancing back from the hoop to a distance I usually, consciously, avoid, the ball leaving my hands again, arching high, smacking through the net, on and on, dozens of times without a miss from near and far, until I had the thought, “This is so fun!” and the ball caromed off the rim into the weeds.

“As far as I’m concerned, the essentials of jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing, and instrumental personality.” Mose Allison

Musicians, artists, dancers, inventors, thinkers…all creative people aspire to be in the zone.

“Memory is funny. Once you hit a vein the problem is not how to remember but how to control the flow.” Tobias Wolff

On the way home from my in-the-zone experience on the basketball court, I fell into a memory of my largest (in terms of numbers of dollars) experiment with money. I was a pauper by American standards from 1969 when I dropped out of college until 1980 when I made what was for me a small fortune through the sale of the paperback rights to my first published novel and the simultaneous sale of the movie rights to the same novel. Shortly thereafter, I paid a large amount of income tax, moved to Sacramento, and bought the only house I’ve ever owned. And then in 1984, just as my movie money was running out, I got married and resumed my practice of making just enough to get by.

Then in 1995, hot on the heels of my divorce and the concurrent disappearance of my house, I made the second small fortune of my life through the unlikely sale of a one-year option on the movie rights to my obscure novel Forgotten Impulses, published in 1980, for one hundred thousand dollars, and the even more unlikely sale of my novel Ruby & Spear to Bantam for twenty-five thousand dollars. In the case of Forgotten Impulses, no movie was ever made, and in the case of Ruby & Spear, Bantam took the wonderful book out of print the day it was published (though copies of both novels can still be found on the interweb for pennies, and you may listen to me read Ruby & Spear (and play all the different characters) at Audible or iTunes). But in any case, I suddenly had, by my standards, another large pile of money.

And I decided to give this second fortune to favorite friends who had very little money and would greatly appreciate some cash. Having spent much of my first fortune on myself, a strategy that brought me little joy and much sorrow, I was curious to see what would happen if I shared my wealth. My hope was that in giving away my fortune I would be priming the cosmic pump, so to speak, which priming would eventually bring me even more money.

As it happens, giving away a fortune in America is not as simple as simply giving money away. First of all, one must pay a large portion of the fortune to the federal and state governments, and this portion is especially large if one is not in the habit of making big sums of money and does not have shelters and deductions and depreciations and such to mitigate the taxes owed. Not wanting to go into debt, I called my accountant and, despite his good-natured assertion that I was insane, we figured out I could give away seventy-six thousand dollars and still have enough left over to pay the taxes I owed, make an impressive contribution to Social Security, and have a few thousand dollars left for rent and food and a new basketball. So I made a list of people I wanted to give money to, most of them artists and poets and musicians working at low-paying jobs while painting and writing and making music and hoping for big breaks such as the two big breaks I’d gotten, and I gave them each two thousand dollars.

Some weeks after mailing out those thirty-eight checks, I got a postcard from Paris from one of the recipients informing me that on the day she got my check she bought a round trip ticket to Europe, packed her bags, and, as she wrote, “I knew it was now or never, so I went for it. Merci!” Another recipient sent me a list of how she spent her two thousand: one thousand donated to a non-profit organization dedicated to spaying feral cats, three hundred for art supplies, six hundred and fifty rent, and fifty bucks on expensive coffee beans. Several recipients said they felt weird taking money from me and wanted to give the money back. When I insisted they keep the cash, they all seemed mightily relieved. And most fascinating to me were the four recipients who never said a word to me about receiving the money, though cancelled checks confirmed they had, indeed, gotten the loot.

Did my giving away my small fortune prime the cosmic pump as I hoped it would? I assume so, though my income for the next several years remained barely adequate to cover rent and vittles, and the Internal Revenue Service did audit me for that year because of what my auditor called “an unlikely income spike.” But money, after all, is not the only measure of how Universe indicates her support for what we do and how we do what we do.

“My hand does the work and I don’t have to think; in fact, were I to think, it would stop the flow.” Edna O’Brien

So today I’m sitting on a bench on the terrace at the Presbyterian, summer fog cloaking the village, and I overhear the following snippets of conversation going on two benches away where six people, four men and two women, are passing pot pipes around and shooting the breeze.

Woman #1: Dude. You were married? For real?

Man #1: So, yeah, I was like totally married. Only she was like thirty and I’m like six years younger, so she just didn’t get me, you know? Like we were from totally different generations.

Woman #1: So are you like…divorced?

Man #1: Totally.

Man #2: Hey, where have you been? Nice shoes.

Woman #2: I was, you know, in LA and like…now I’m out on fifty thousand dollars bail.

Man #2: Dude. Fifty thousand. What did you do?

Woman #2: Lots.

Man #1: Pot?

Woman #2: No. I said lots. Credit cards and shit.

Man #1: Whoa, Dude. I thought you said pot.

Woman #2: No and one of the big credit card things was totally not mine, so…

Man #1: You want to smoke some hash on top of that?

Woman #2: Sure. Why not?

Woman #1: Totally, dude. Go with the flow.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks. com